August 09, 2007
Then it's showtime: A crack addict fires up an L-shaped tube, proclaiming “L is for losers,” and gets deeply lost himself. Nail-tough neighborhood girls brag about roughing up hookers. “Nice quiet neighborhood,” says a father of ten, “if they stop finding bodies.”
Each vignette is short -- between two and three minutes -- composed with a painter's eye, and populated with a carnival of characters who David Kessler somehow gets to tell their stories.
Since January the 32-year-old filmmaker has been setting up his tripod under the El, and turning out these dark gems, which he posts to his blog, called Shadow World:
The El called to Kessler the moment he saw it; he'd been a student at the University of the Arts in the mid-‘90s. He chose it as a location for a feature film then again for his documentary on Zoe Strauss, the Philadelphia artist.
Then in January he moved into a $450-a-month studio, utilities included, seven doors down from the tracks, in a grim apartment building that bears the hand-written sign “Please knock like a human. Don't break the door.”
He hated living there, but he knew the location would offer great material — the sharp contrasts, the constant rattle, the beat-up buildings.
He had no idea he'd fall so hard for the people.
The woman wobbles down Front Street in a bright red T-shirt, worn around her midriff, and dungaree Daisy Dukes. She sees Kessler, and waves excitedly, “How are you, honey?”
“Nice to see you again,” he calls across the street.
He’s skinny, unshaven and bespectacled, wearing mud-toned slacks and shirt and a small gray fedora. The full hipster.
She launches into her woe of the moment.
“I was trying to get into the bar," she says. “But they wouldn't serve me because I had a bra top on.”
Kessler smiles empathetically. She tells him to take care.
“She's a prostitute,” he says as we walk. “I interviewed her yesterday. I was walking out here with my camera. She invited me to sit down next to her. She said she's been out here nine years, since her husband was killed. She walks with a limp. She was in a serious car accident. We talked about that. She has a deep scar on her leg.”
I ask whether the people he shoots ever see his work, and so far only one has that he knows of -- a man at Bada Bargains whose hobby is collecting buttons. “He loved it.”
Kessler says he often edits out things he thinks might get his subjects in trouble, and only features people he feels some connection to. “I think about this a lot,” he says. “I don't want to be seen as exploiting these people.”
At Front & Emerald a woman nearly staggers into us, staring someplace far away. Working girls idle on corners. A man hollers at a woman as they push their groceries down the street.
“It's unfortunate," Kessler says, “that I can't capture all of the smells.”
He talks how each block is a different world, one Spanish, the next one Vietnamese. When the El passes, the ground shakes. He says he no longer hears it.
His recorder, a tiny Sony Handycam, is always at the ready. He's found material at the laundry. Outside the methadone clinic. At the soup kitchen. On his doorstep.
“I want to find more joyous moments,” he says, as the El rumbles overhead. “It is getting progressively darker, with the crack and people talking about the bodies being found in the walls. It’s not what I set out to do. But that is hard to ignore.”
August 08, 2007
That's us, according to Monday's graphic in USA Today.
The stats were compiled by Outside.in. One of their representatives wrote by email that the group has been tracking blog activity in 60 or so cities around the country, watching how many posts were published in March and April.
Divide by the population, and you get a rate. They call it a "blogginess quotient." We're quite bloggy.
Using this methodology, Philly came in No. 2 -- both in the number of total posts and the rate of posting, when you figure for how many people live here.
Boston had the highest rate. New York had the most posts. Seattle was busy drinking coffee.
Pittsburgh had the third-most posts per capita, which says something good about the scrapple state.
July 27, 2007
Goodnight, Mr. Bunch
It was great to see Will Bunch on national TV last night, affirming to hear Keith Olbermann describe the Daily News senior writer as author of a "superb online blog" and fascinating to hear Mr. Attytood poke holes in the connection between terror and cheese.
More curious was the revelation that in 1975, Olbermann was senior editor at the Hackley School newspaper in Tarrytown, N.Y. while Bunch was a cub reporter. At the end of his Countdown segment Olbermann ran a screen shot of an edition of that sheet in which both angry young men earned bylines.
Hackley School? Isn't that where Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren shoot some of their catalogues? Didn't Malcolm Forbes go there? George Hamilton? Next we'll learn Will lathers Grey Poupon on his pretzels.
July 25, 2007
Whiskey On Ice
Every few months I try to call up a dead link on my list of "favorites," hoping to be surprised by some activity in a shuttered Web site. I'll play Rbally, to see if the music blogger's gone back to posting great shows from rock's golden ages.
And I'll drop by the Whiskey Bar, to see if the blogger named Billmon's ended his long drought to again show the way out of our current political troubles.
I wish I could report Billmon's return. (Or Rbally's for that matter.) We have to settle for second best:
Someone's put together an archive of Whiskey Bar's most essential pours -- his incisive posts on the Iraq war. The ones that show once again what happens when you combine journalistic chops (he used to be a reporter) with a sense of outrage over the way our goverment operates (just because there are two sides to a story doesn't make them equal). It may or not be Billmon who built the archive. Interesting speculation here, at All-Spin Zone.
My favorite blogger shuttered his place the end of last year. For months just error messages came up when you called up his site. Now there's a way to re-read some of the posts that put him at the front of the pack. Maybe it's been up a while; I found it when I Googled, "Whiskey Bar." He's also got archives of a few more subjects, with titles such as "Come to Daddy," "Comrade Webb," and "Winners & Losers." It's only a taste, but it's still top shelf.
July 08, 2007
Back in The High Life
Clever, those kids at Philly.com. Restore Blinq to an honored spot on the Philly.com blogroll, and maybe they can get some more new tricks from this old hound. Not sure what I have to say, since my blog reading has been more avocational than vocational lately. That's no so bad, though. So, here's what's been on my screen.
Jon Pareles' blog in the New York Times, which I checked out mainly to learn the identity of the fawning, preening softboy with asymmetrical hair (AFI?) that I turned off so quickly during Bravo's breakfast, lunch and dinner with Live Earth. What I did see: A spirited Crowded House set from Sydney with some smart ad-libbing by Neil Finn; a dozen? gold-clad Chinese sirens playing a funked up Mozart's 40th on primitive strings; Al Gore's remedial clapping; Red Hot Chili Peppers,but mainly to figure out if that was Will Ferrell on drums. No, silly. He could nail down the beat.
Speaking of nailing it ... Inquirer editor David Sullivan continues advancing the cause of that thing that we do. Basically, he argues, there's a lot more fight left in newspapers, and we need to get great at that which we do best. Whether or not that continues to be distributed on fishwrap remains to be seen. He writes from the trenches:
Readers have told us for years that they don’t have time to read the whole paper. A sorry excuse, we respond; look at all we do for you? If we could, we’d give you even more to read, and you darn well better be grateful. After all, everyone we know reads the New York Times. Does anyone we know ever say the New York Times should be smaller?
Something else that crossed my desk, a from-the-right evisceration of Howard Eskin. Instapunk wrote of WIP-AM's Wolfman:
Eskin's only real expertise is in-depth knowledge of Philadelphia's teams and their histories. This he gets from being a born Philadelphian (nobody can mangle the pronunciation of the letter "P" -- as in 'WIP' -- like a Philly native). He also has learned the mysterious feature of talk radio Phil Hendrie has exploited to become a cult phenomenon. The people who call in to a radio show are a tiny subset of those who listen, and the callers will keep calling and keep being as stupid as you dare them to be. Eskin's bread-and-butter fans would never call him because his whole shtick is torturing callers for the entertainment of those who listen for the easy pleasure of feeling smart; i.e., smarter than the tireless victims who don't ever get the joke. Unlike Hendrie's application of this principle, which is creative, funny, and sometimes inspired, Eskin's exploitation of dim bulbs is akin to masturbation. His whole act is designed to solicit calls only from the dumbest rocks in the box, and putting them down strokes his own insecure ego on a continuous basis.
Finally, a five-year-old article from the Stanford Daily about "the truer sound" of Uncle Tupelo. And speaking of great, gone bands, a Trip Shakespeare page with concert footage and promotional goodies.
March 18, 2007
Is This Thing On?
No, we haven't been decommissioned, as the BM Rant wrote this weekend. Blinq was just a momentary casualty of the switch to a new publishing system at Philly.com, and it took lots of woman hours to make it look the way it does now. (Thanks Jennifer and Nadya) We lost the pictures, though I'm told those will be back. But we found the animated Blinq title, which Nadya designed nearly two years ago, and which the overlords at Knight Ridder nixed because it was too .... well, it was too something, so they said no. It's nice to see it again.
All this work makes me want to write something. Something about "Rome?" I'm pretty bummed about the end of this HBO series - and sad about the end of HBO, which disappeared from our house because Comcast has decided to pull it from all places that have analog, not digital service. And I see no reason to pay more money for digital, when people are starving in India, so no HBO. Thanks to a friend at work, I got to borrow copies of the last two episodes, which I watched this weekend. I'm not telling how it ends - other than its written in history books, so look it up. But the guy on the ROME board at HBO's Website who predicted an Opie and Andy in Mayberry shot to end the series ought to handicap the mayor's race.
January 26, 2007
Blogs From the 19th Century
It's been 146 years since a Prince of Wales last visited our fair city. The royal in question was the slight, pale, 18-year-old son of Queen Victoria and heir to the throne of England -- known as Albert Edward, and called Baron Renfrew. Decades later, he would become King Edward VII. (For a naughtier connection between Edward and Charles, kindly click this link; looks like he had thing with Camilla's great grandmother.)
The Oct. 11, 1860 report ran down the left rail of the Philadelphia Inquirer's front page with, in the style of the period, a many-decked headline that tipped busy readers to the main events (sort of an Express of its day):
BARON RENFREW IN PHILADELPHIA
VISIT TO A BOWLING SALOON
PRESENTATION OF AN ENGRAVING
TRIP TO GIRARD COLLEGE
THE PRINCE IN THE COUNTY PRISON
GALA DAY AT POINT BREEZE
THE GRAND OPERA
Etc. Etc. Etc.
What's amazing to this modern reader - other than the fact his hosts would show the future King of England to a bowling saloon - is just how much etcetera they packed into their news back then.
A reporter trailed the prince as he toured America's second-largest city to produce a timely, atmospheric, rambling, and oddly detailed narrative of gifts received, engravings examined, dwellings admired, horse chestnuts planted, and hail fellows, well met.
In short, it reads like a 19th Century event blog.
This moment is revisited near the bottom of the account, as the unnamed writer feels compelled to add more names and details and interrupt the narrative flow. (Remember that moving paragraphs required physical labor back then.)
Throughout, facts are gathered like a well-mannered mob.This, from some time spent at the Point Breeze race track:
There was a gentle breeze blowing, and the weather could not have been more desirable. A splendid band of music was upon the ground, and discoursed its strains of melody in the interim between the different heats.
The Prince whiled away the time in smoke a fragrant Havana and conversing with those around him. Among those within his immediate vicinity we noticed Mayor Henry, Hon. Wm. B. Reed, John Rice, Esq., Wm. D. Leis, and other citizens, besides the entire royal suite. The ladies who were represented to the number of about two thousand, seldom cast their glances in an opposite direction to the Prince. Some had opera glasses, which they used during most of the afternoon.
The first race came off at half-past two P.M., between the following horses: "Throgsneck," entered by C. S. LLoyd (F. Morris.). "Irona" five years old, sired by "Register," dam "Black Sal," by "Prince George," with 103 pounds and "Rosa Bonheur," three years old, weight 87 pounds. This was a handicap race of one mile. Entrance $100; forfeit $59; declaration $20. The "Bonheur" won the race - time, 1 minute 47 3/4 seconds.
There's even a classic display of Philadelphia attytood toward the end of the visit, although the reporting gets a little loose here.
"It appears that on the arrival of the Prince at the hotel, in consequence of some slight inadvertence, he was not recognized at the door, and was stopped by the person in attendance with the remark, "No intruders admitted" or something the same effect."
So, things haven't changed that much around here, give or take a few bowling saloons.
(Inquirer photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, www.hsp.org.)
January 18, 2007
Photo Of The Day
If we had a Photo of the Day department, like Londonist has, we would have posted this.
Reminds me of all those deflated Santas you drive by in my neighborhood.
Do people let the air out at night? Is it the drop in temperature?
Is it vandals, systematically working their way through the Delaware Valley?
We don't know from Santa.
January 01, 2007
With Saddam hanged and reports of arguments at the end -- American advisers counseling caution, Iraqi officials rushing to the gallows -- there's one spot in the blogosphere that could be counted on to make sense of the confusion.
And now it's gone.
If you stopped by Whiskey Bar over the holidays, you might have found that instead of the usual - an elegant and well-reasoned essay about the folly of our times - the blogger named Billmon had posted a picture of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig and the words "That's All Folks!"
The southpaw stopped pouring Dec. 28th. Now the saloon's closed. You try to call up his site, and an error message bars the door. For many readers, including this one, it was the most satisfying watering hole on the strip.
Billmon didn't explain if this is a pause - he's had a few before - or a full stop. But readers of his site have noted some hints left in recent posts. A week before he closed, he wrote, "I've been spending some of my spare time these past few weeks rummaging around in the Whisky Bar archives, trying to decide what, if any of it, is worth keeping ..."
Firedog Lake observed that Billmon assembled a "greatest hits" collection of his commentary on Iraq. Before he pulled the plug, Firedog Lake noticed how Billmon had lamented that his and other blogs hadn't served a useful purpose, and changed the course of the war.
Russ Wellen, writing in OpEdNews, called Billmon "the man who may have done more to brng respectability to blogging than anybody." But he noted that Billmon had worried in his posts that dedicated blogging came at a high price, robbing time from work and family.
I put in a call to Billmon's home in suburban Philadelphia. A woman there said he wasn't available. And he didn't get back to me. Last spring we talked for about 45 minutes for a profile.
He was slowing down, questioning the worth of what he'd written, complaining about burn-out, wondering if he should just write blog on the history of travel. I published that, and Billmon proceeded to go on a vicious tear, writing with more energy and passion than he'd summoned for months.
I'd happily be made to look foolish again if it meant he returned to form. But I wouldn't count on it.
It's hard to know who to turn to for the real story of Billmon's disappearing act. He writes anonymously - he's a corporate marketer, and revealing himself wouldn't exactly help at work. He didn't frequent the Drinking Liberally gatherings in Philadelphia. He kept to himself, writing with the social detachment of a journalist, which he used to be, and with deep, personal conviction.
One man who I thought might know the story is "Bernhard," proprietor of Moon Of Alabama, a site that mirrors Billmon's Whiskey Bar, with the exception that it invites reader comments. Billmon got rid of comments after they got out of hand.
Bernhard wrote by email:
"I don't know why he stopped or if he will write again."
Turns out the two have never met, and their only e-mail exchanges have been about technical matters, Bernhard wrote. For now, Moon Of Alabama will continue - it's for the community of Whiskey Bar readers, and there's still much to talk about - though Bernhard said that the needs of his other job might require he shut it down or hand it over to someone else later this year.
On that site, Billmon readers have been lamenting Whisky Bar's shuttering. One, Elizabeth Doughty wrote:
I don't know Billmon's name or his face. I wish we could put some of his best posts (any of them are his best) on the back of a milk carton and send them far and wide. And in suburban Philadelphia--put them on milk cartons, yogurt containers, anything you can.
I'll wonder who is is, where he is, wish he could still help me see things clearly, using his understanding and the facts.
Hope he's safe and sound.
Thanks very much, Billmon.
November 22, 2006
They Are Black Friday Zombies!!
Psst! Wanna know a badly kept secret? With Black Friday approaching like an good-old-zombies-in-the-mall movie, several Internet sites have gotten into the business of spoiling retailers' secrets by leaking what products are going to be on sale.
And some of those big-box retailers haven't loved letting the world know their plans. Last week, Frank Barnako reports, some of the Black Friday sites received threatening letters from lawyers representing Best Buy, insisting they remove their tips from the Web. (Best Buy insisted its sale prices were copyright-protected.)
Now we're seeing an "if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them" strategy.
Best Buy and Wal-Mart are blowing their own embargoes. If you go to Best Buy.com and type in your zip code, you can see the whole Thanksgiving Day newspaper ads that will announce what bargains can be had.
Wal-Mart, too, is using its Web site to announce the "unbelievable in-store values" that will be available between 5 and 11 am. the day after Thanksgiving.
These Black Friday sites seem to be busy little places. The Black Friday site at GottaDeal.com, for instance, boasts of 110,000 members who hang around and chat about such deals as BestBuy.com's upcoming unadvertised specials -- a $249 Toshiba laptop and a $999 plasma HDTV.
Black Friday has come to mark the official start of the Christmas shopping season. (Ok, Hannukah, too) The term refers to the time of year when retailers typically went from the unprofitable red ink to the profitable black ink.
Let's say you don't want to spend Friday sweating with the masses? You might want to check out this site. Someone might even be live-blogging of Black Friday. I'll be raking leaves.